Na Sung-bum joins Tigers as Yang Hyeon-jong delays again

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Na Sung-bum joins Tigers as Yang Hyeon-jong delays again

Na Sung-bum, left, and Yang Hyeon-jong [KIA TIGERS; YONHAP]

Na Sung-bum, left, and Yang Hyeon-jong [KIA TIGERS; YONHAP]

 
The Kia Tigers on Thursday signed All-Star outfielder Na Sung-bum to a KBO record-tying contract, just a day after they again failed to finalize a deal to bring back former franchise star and fan favorite Yang Hyeon-jong.
 
The Tigers on Thursday signed Na to a six-year-deal worth 15 billion won ($12.6 million). Na, formerly of the NC Dinos, will earn 6 billion won in guaranteed salary spread over the six years with 3 billion won in incentives. He will receive a 6 billion won signing bonus.
 
With the deal, Na, an All-Star outfielder considered the biggest name in this year's free agent market, has tied the KBO record for the most-lucrative contract, alongside Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants.  
 
The move also effectively removes Na, who has long been considered a possible MLB prospect, from major league contention. At 32 years old now, Na will be with Kia until he is 38 years old and will, presumably, retire in the KBO.
 
Na debuted with the Dinos in 2013, having chosen to attend university before joining the KBO. He almost immediately established himself as the franchise star, batting .312 with 1,330 hits, 830 RBIs and 212 home runs over nine years with the club.
 
Na's bat has been particularly hot in the last couple of seasons, with 34 home runs in 2020 and 33 home runs this year. That 33 long balls brings Na in at exactly 50 percent of the total 66 home runs that the entire Tigers squad managed last season.
 
But Na's arrival comes less than a day after the JoongAng Ilbo reported that the Tigers had again failed to get former ace Yang to sign on the dotted line despite five rounds of negotiations.
 
Kia reportedly presented its revised final offer at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Wednesday, but Yang left the meeting without signing. The former major leaguer reportedly requested a little more time to think.
 
The Tigers are reportedly offering Yang a deal worth worth 10 billion won ($8.4 million) for four years, but whatever the terms of that deal are, Yang and his representatives clearly don't think they are favorable.
 
The issue may be incentives. Kia's offer is believed to include significant incentives, rather than guaranteed salary. This is likely a safety measure on the part of the club — Yang is 33 years old and the last couple of years, whether in the United States or Korea, certainly haven't been the best of his career.
 
After playing his entire career in Gwangju, Yang left the Tigers last year in favor of a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, where he hoped to break into the big leagues and make a name for himself. He ended up having a rollercoaster year, shuttling between the majors and minors in the Rangers farm system and ended the season with 12 major league appearances, a 5.60 ERA, three losses and an expired one-year contract.
 
In Korea, Yang was a very different caliber player. After making his first appearance with the Tigers in 2007, Yang has appeared in 425 games across 14 seasons, with a 3.83 career ERA and 147 wins to his name.
 
Yang was posted by the Tigers after the 2014 season but couldn't land a major deal then.  
 
In each of the ensuing six seasons since deciding to stay with the Tigers, Yang has thrown at least 170 innings. In that span, the workhorse left-hander leads all KBO pitchers with 85 wins, 10 complete games, 925 strikeouts and 1,119 and one-third innings pitched.
 
In 2017, Yang was voted the regular season MVP here, thanks to a 20-6 record and a 3.44 ERA. He earned the Korean Series MVP award in 2017 by leading the Tigers to their first championship in eight years. Yang pitched a complete game shutout and saved the clinching game in that series.
 
Yang was even better in 2019, when he was 16-8 with a 2.29 ERA in 29 starts while giving up only six home runs in 184 and two-thirds innings. Yang was quieter in the 2020 season, with 11 wins and 10 losses in 31 starts with a 4.70 ERA.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]
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